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Symons finishes win on bum knee

12/31/2003

HOUSTON -- B.J. Symons did what he's done all year, busted knee and all.

Symons completed the most prolific passing season in Division I-A history by throwing for 497 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Red Raiders to a 38-14 victory over Navy in the Houston Bowl on Tuesday, then admitted afterward he's been playing with a torn ligament in his left knee for more than two months.

Neither he nor the school ever had revealed how badly Symons
hurt himself Oct. 11 while jumping to celebrate a TD pass to
teammate Wes Welker. After finishing his career by extending his
single-season passing record to 5,833 yards, he told reporters that he
will undergo reconstructive surgery on his anterior cruciate
ligament Jan. 6.

"I think I've got a lot of football left in me," Symons said,
referring to the upcoming NFL draft.

His gritty performance, the seventh on the bad leg, lifted Tech
(8-5) to the first back-to-back bowl victories in school history.

"I had a lot of people tell me I shouldn't play in this game,"
said Symons, who capped his only year as the starter with the win
in his hometown. "But this was the only season I had, and I wanted
to take advantage of every opportunity.

"Besides, how would I explain (not playing) to my teammates? It
wasn't even a decision to me."

The game ended a remarkable turnaround season for Navy (8-5),
which won just three games over the previous three years.
Quarterback Craig Candeto, at the controls of coach Paul Johnson's
top-ranked rushing offense, ran for 90 yards and both touchdowns in
his last game.

Candeto's 2-yard TD run early in the third quarter pulled Navy
within 14-7 against the larger, faster and more highly recruited
Red Raiders. Navy did it all with virtually no threat of the pass
as Candeto completed just two for 33 yards.

The Red Raiders' No. 1 passing offense responded, with Symons
leading them back quickly to set up a four-yard TD run by Taurean
Henderson. Keith Toogood tacked on a 21-yard field goal for a 24-7
lead.

Tech's 110th-ranked defense never quite stopped Navy, which
rolled up 289 yards rushing, but slowed the Midshipmen enough
despite a fourth-quarter scoring plunge by Candeto. Symons poured
it on at the end with TD passes to Jarrett Hicks and Mickey Peters.

"We should be proud of where we are right now," Candeto said.
"Obviously we're disappointed with the loss and all the guys have
their heads down, but when we reflect on the season we have a lot
to be proud of."

Tech, which beat Clemson in last year's Tangerine Bowl, improved its postseason record to 7-19-1. Navy, invited because the
Southeastern Conference couldn't supply a team, returned to bowl
play for the first time in seven years and only the second time
since 1981.

Symons ended his senior year with 52 TD passes, second only to
the 54 thrown by Houston's David Klingler in 1994. His favorite
target, Welker, tied an NCAA record by catching a pass in his 47th
consecutive game.

Johnson, unaware of how banged up Symons was, came away duly impressed.

"He's got a rocket for an arm. He's definitely a competitor and
a tough kid," Johnson said. "I don't have enough good things to
say about him. He did a great job."

Candeto headed into his five-year service commitment with 33
career touchdowns rushing, pulling ahead of Navy's all-time rushing
leader Napoleon McCallum to No. 2 on the academy's TD list.

Johnson gambled early in the second quarter when Navy fell short
on a fake punt near midfield. Moments later, Symons lobbed a
perfect timing pass to Peters on the right side of the end zone for
the game's first score.

Late in the quarter Navy appeared to stop Tech when Shalimar
Brazier clobbered Symons for an 18-yard loss, but he bounced back
to hit Nehemiah Glover three straight times for gains of six and 12 yards, and a 17-yard score and a 14-0 lead.

The game ended with a scare when two speeding players
accidentally collided with back judge David Lambros, who was jolted
backwards and bounced off the grass. He lay motionless for a few
minutes but was able to get up and did not appear to be seriously
hurt.